By Sean Keats, CSCS
(WINDSOR, ON) – It may not be all bad after all. White food has recently earned a bad reputation. Much of this may be due to diet programs requiring you to limit the amount of white foods you eat. That’s because white foods are known as processed foods that have been stripped of their nutritional goodness. Often stuffed with “bad” carbohydrates, these white foods have been associated with health conditions such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
However, it’s not smart to make the generalization that all white foods are bad for you and avoid eating white foods altogether. Because some white foods out there actually offer some nutritional benefit.
When you think of white food, you probably think of bagels, bread, crackers, tortillas, cereal, cake, pasta, pancakes, pastries, and rice. Yet there are many other foods that are naturally white in colour that aren’t empty carbs. Case in point: milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, eggs, fish, cauliflower, onions, certain fruits and beans, and potatoes.
Which white foods are OK and which ones should you limit? You’re about to find out.
The Bad Whites
If a food is white but didn’t start out white, it won’t contain much nutritional value and should be eaten sparingly. White flour, white sugar, and high fructose corn syrup have been refined from their natural state. They may look nicer than their brown alternatives, but they’re just empty calories.
Even white flour is guilty, as it’s been stripped of its outer layer. Unfortunately, this layer of the grain is what contains flour’s fibre and nutrients. Often, these white foods have been enriched with vitamins and minerals, but they still lack fibre. White flour-based foods may fill your belly for a short time, but since they lack fibre, you won’t feel full for very long.
You may think it would be pretty easy to avoid foods with refined white flour, but what about sugar and corn syrup? The average Canadian eats and drinks an average of 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. When you fill up on sugar, you aren’t filling up on nutritious foods. Besides tooth decay, too much sugary food plays a role in obesity and diabetes.
White foods are also problematic, as your body absorbs the simple sugars found in refined white foods quickly. This raises your blood sugar, triggers insulin to be released, and causes you to feel hungry again. Hence why eating refined white foods makes it easy to overeat.
The Good Whites
Just because a food is white doesn’t make it bad for you. While many white foods should be limited, others are nutritional powerhouses you should include in your diet. Reduced-fat dairy foods are naturally white and rich in nutrients that are hard to get in other foods, including calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, riboflavin, vitamin A, and vitamin D. Dairy is also a great source of protein.
A second group of white foods are alliums (garlic, shallot, leek, and onion). Full of nutrients and even medicinal qualities, at least one of these white foods should be included in your diet each day.
In the meat department, white fish such as haddock, flounder, tilapia, and cod are a great source of lean protein. Grab some healthy fish once a week and watch your health skyrocket.
Want more healthy white foods? Go with fruits and veggies such as cauliflower, apples, pears, and mushrooms. Even though they are white, they are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. While potatoes are also okay to eat, they’re high in carbs and should be eaten in moderation by some. If you don’t have issues with carbs, potatoes are great sources of vitamin C, potassium, iron, and—when eaten with the skin on, fibre.
Lastly, white beans such as the cannelloni, Navy, Great Northern, and black-eyed pea are great sources of protein, fibre, and nutrients.